Janet Dale

AFTER MOON

 

He’s probably already drooling on his pillow, Heather thought as she backed her car out of the compact parking space. The sky was dull, as if a jar of purple-black ink had tumbled off a celestial desk and crashed spilling its contents. The further she drove away from Michael’s apartment complex, the higher the moon peaked over the pine tops; casting an eerie glow.

“I’m just so over the moon,” Heather said to the empty passenger’s seat. Wait. Her words reminded her of a favorite actress’s first movie—the one where a young girl falls in love with a wrong boy during a sultry Southern summer. What was it called? Something moon.

“Blue moon?” No.

She had read somewhere earlier in the week this was going to be the brightest moon of the year or decade. She couldn’t remember which, and she didn’t care. They were over, and she wanted the world to match her mood; dark and sad, not shiny and bright.

And what were they exactly? Boyfriend/girlfriend? No. Friends? Once upon a time, yes. But now she cared more about his life (the one she wasn’t in) than he did about hers (the one he wasn’t in). Michael only texted when he wanted her, and lately that was often.

“Howling at the moon?” No.

Merging onto the highway, Heather thought about how long they had known each other. Four or five years? She thought about what they went through together when their relationship was easy to define; a colleague had been diagnosed with and had subsequently died from brain cancer. The shared loss gave them a comfortable silence to sit in together. Conversations only began to change after she was promoted and moved two hours away.

This was the fourth time in six months she had driven to see him. It was also the fourth time she left not satisfied, giving the 126-mile trip back to her house the opposite feeling of the trip to his apartment.

“Goodnight, moon.” No.

If one of her close friends had been in the same situation and had come to her for advice, she knew exactly what she’d say: Stop. No. He’s not worth your time. When was the last time he came to see you? When was the last time you, you know, came?

“Fuck you, moon.” Please.

The first exit sign she noticed, prompted her to glance at the gas gauge with its needle hovering near E. She would have to stop soon, no way around it. Tonight’s trip hadn’t been planned like those in the past. It had begun with an especially naughty texting session which somehow convinced her to ignore the work she needed to finish before Monday morning.

“Irresponsible, moon.”

Heather scanned the radio for distraction. A laid-back song helped until the chorus kicked in: “It’s such a fine and natural sight, everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight.” On another station a flamboyant preacher’s voice chided, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh…” Silence would have to do.

“Dammit,” she muttered, passing another well-lit exit.

A red warning light flashed and she knew she’d have to settle for whatever was at the next exit. What time is it? She had purposely stashed her phone in the back seat so she wasn’t tempted to text him. The clock on the radio glowed 3:04, but she couldn’t remember if she had changed it the previous weekend for Daylight Saving Time.

Veering off the dark off-ramp, she didn’t see any structure, let alone a gas station. When she came to a stop, she reached back for her phone to see 2:07. She asked her phone which way to the nearest gas station and then held her breath as she turned left.

Approximately 3.7 miles later, she pulled into the sleepy gas station. When she stepped to the back of her car, she saw the pump was old-fashioned with numbers that spun on a wheel to indicate price and gallons. Never having seen one in person, the pump fascinated her. She went inside the attached convenience store to prepay, and a bored-looking teenager behind the register was shocked to see her. He put down his phone, pushed his hair out of his eyes.

Heather handed him a twenty-dollar bill, and pointed toward her car. “I was worried you might be closed.”

There was no response, but he began punching buttons on the register.

She searched for small talk to fill the silence, “Have you seen the moon tonight?”

He finally looked up at her and managed a tight smile, “I heard about that, but haven’t really paid too much attention it.”

“It’s not that special,” Heather lied.

While filling her tank, she heard a loud continuous thumping. Looking around, she saw an army of insects hurling themselves against the large front window of the store, attracted to the artificial light. The sound of their exoskeletons crushing against the glass made her shutter. As soon as the pump stopped, she hurried back into her car.

Heather reversed directions and when she reached the highway, she tried the radio again. The slow strains of a single piano crackled through the speakers, and she relented, resting both hands on the wheel. The song was sad and slow, matching the way she felt. It wasn’t until her vision became blurry she realized tears were streaming down her cheeks. When she reached up to wipe them away, she could still smell his skin on her fingertips. There was a pause and the piano sped up; Heather felt like she was flying down the highway.

Several beats after the piano finally came to a halt, a male voice began explaining: “That was Annie Fischer’s rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, Opus 27, No. 2…”

“Oh, Annie, perfection.”

The male voice continued: “Recorded at the end of 1958, this piece is commonly referred to as the Moonlight Sonata making it perfect for tonight.”

With a flourish, she turned off the radio for bringing up the moon again. Then she realized it had been travelling alongside her the entire trip, and she was disappointed knowing she would associate this night with this beautiful moon.

“The man in the moon!” Heather shouted, startling herself as she remembered the name of the movie.

Fifteen minutes later, she took another exit, and when she came to the familiar Stop sign, she reached back and grabbed her phone. Heather sent Michael a text to let him know she had made it safely, and without waiting for a response she blocked his number. She tossed her phone back into the back seat and turned the wheel in the direction of her house.


Although she claims Memphis as home, Janet Dale lives in southeast Georgia where she teaches first year writing at Georgia Southern University and is always reading something (including submissions for Nightjar Review). Her work has appeared in Hobart, Zone 3, Pine Hills Review, Really System, and others.